Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

For information on the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC, please see our post from last week. Over 100 books have been bought from the Powells wish list thus far! -CM It being October, it means that Halloween is right around the corner. Although Halloween has become associated with scary stories, it is more rightly associated (historically) with the telling of stories. Period. And what better stories than those found in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe?

Poe, after all, invented detective fiction in the English-speaking world with his creation of C. Auguste Dupin, the detective in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". (Dupin appeared in additional stories, "The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt" and "The Purloined Letter". "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" feature a grisly double murder, made all the more baffling by occurring inside an inaccessible fourth-floor room that is locked from the inside. Ear-witnesses agree that they heard the attack, but cannot place the language used by the attacker. Dupin and his friend (the unnamed narrator) sort out what actually happened. Dupin, it should be noted, is not actually a detective, any more than Sherlock Holmes is - he is just a guy with an interest in learning the truth of the matter, who has the time and ability to track things down. Dupin is, in fact, a prototype for both Holmes and for Agatha Christie's detective, Hercule Poirot.

But Poe didn't stop with mysteries. His short stories include quite a lot of horror. There are macabre tales such as "The Cask of Amontillado", in which a murderer recounts how, 50 years ago, he exacted revenge on his "friend" for a perceived slight - by chaining and walling him inside the wine cellar to die, and the equally gruesome "The Tell-Tale Heart", also recounted by the murderer, who tries to convince the reader that he is sane while describing his unhinged behaviors. Stories such as "The Pit and the Pendulum", about torture during the Spanish Inquisition, and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", which at first was published as a true account of the temporary suspension of death by mesmerism, dispensed with supernatural factors, but still manage to terrify.

And Poe also wrote nascent science fiction (at a time before such a thing technically existed), in "The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaal", about a flight to the moon.

The book includes Poe's poems, as well. Some of them are short and (almost) sweet, but two of his better-known poems are rather long, and decidedly forlorn: "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee".

For short stories that will live long in memory, you just can't beat Poe.


Man of la Book said...

Great post. I read this a few years ago and the one thing I clearly remember is that after finishing the book I was convinced that Poe was totally insane.


david elzey said...

there is a beautiful collection of poe, a reprint of the 1911 edition with haunting art deco/nouveau illustrations by harry clarke that would make a great gift.


it's on my wishlist!

Anonymous said...

David - That is indeed a gorgeous book (from what I can tell online) - I hope Santa brings it for you!

Man of la Book: I'm not sure that Poe was insane, but he sure managed to conjure stories that support that theory!

david elzey said...

you know, that whole thing about poe being crazy came from the literary executor who set out to deliberately destroy poe's reputation. he wrote his "official" biography at the time, perhaps to capitalize on the vogue for "dark" and "gothic" stories -- like today, people cannot pass up a ghoulish tale of a depraved artist, whether or not it's true!

he may have been depressed, more from the loss of his young wife/cousin than anything dark and troubling inside him, and there isn't much evidence of his actually having been an alcoholic.

Anonymous said...

David: I learned quite a bit about that when I visited Poe's house in Philly a few years back. During his lifetime, there were no rumors of drug use or alcoholism, either, but that same executor tried to pin both on him, and it certainly has stuck.